By Audrey Stewart and Davida Finger, Esq.
Curtis Flowers has been incarcerated in Mississippi for almost 15 years without ever being fairly convicted of any crime. Facing capital charges, his sixth trial for the same alleged crimes began today in Winona, MS. Curtis Flowers sat peacefully as jury selection began in the quadruple murder case against him. Family members of some of the victims held detailed, printed information about the prospective jurors including jurors’ employment, family and residential information, criminal backgrounds, facebook postings, and comments such as “justice court says good.”
Curtis Flowers has been tried on the same related murders charges in: 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007, and 2008. Witnesses eventually came forward only after a $30,000 award was offered by the prosecutor’s office. The Mississippi State Supreme Court overturned the first two decisions against Mr. Flowers due to prosecutorial misconduct and errors. After the second trial, the court opined, “. . . the prosecution went far beyond the realm of admissible evidence in this case in order to improperly enhance the likelihood of Flowers for [sic] capital murder . . . ." (State v. Flowers, Ms. S. Ct. (April 3, 2003), at 49).
Following the third trial, the high court vacated the decision to convict and the death sentence based on the prosecutor’s evident racial bias in using all fifteen jury strikes to eliminate only African Americans from the jury pool; only one African American ultimately sat on the jury that voted to convict. “The continuous striking of African-American jurors, whose views on the death penalty are virtually indistinguishable from those of similarly situated white jurors who went unchallenged by the State, does raise an inference of racial discrimination.” (State v. Flowers, 947 So. 2d 910, 921, 2007).
The fourth trial resulted in a hung jury; five African American jurors voted to acquit while seven White jurors voted to convict. According to the Clarion-Ledger, those first four trials cost the State of Mississippi no small sum: approximately $283,000. (See Jimmy Gates, Jurors Give Up; Fifth Trial Awaits, Clarion Ledger, Dec. 6, 2007).
The fifth trial also resulted in a hung jury. Following that trial, the prosecutor charged the only juror who held out for an acquittal with perjury: a retired, African American teacher. However, following both the judge and prosecutor’s recusals from that case, the Mississippi Attorney General’s office dropped the perjury charges due simply to the lack of evidence. The cost of the fifth trial brought the total state spending on its case against Mr. Flowers to over $300,000. (See Charlie Smith, Flowers Defense Attacks Photo Line-up, Greenwood Commonwealth, June 2, 2010).
Nearly of the prospective jurors had some relationship to the case through family relationship, school or work. Four white prospective jurors were law enforcement officers who testified that they had guarded or transported Flowers but felt prepared to consider the case impartially. One after another, prospective African American jurors spoke about their association with the Flower’s family through work, family, church, and a popular gospel group headed by Archie Flowers (Curtis’s father). One juror spoke of his moving experiences with Curtis Flowers after meeting him through his church group’s prison ministry. Asked how Flowers was holding up at the end of the first day, his mother Lola Flowers replied “Well, he’s got the faith.”
For more information:
Mississippi Supreme Court Decisions, at: http://www.mssc.state.ms.us/appellate_courts/sc/scdecisions.html.
Friends of Justice (Curtis Flowers link).
Audrey Stewart is a community activist as soon to be teacher. She is originally from the Mississippi Delta and lives in New Orleans.
Davida Finger is an attorney and Assistant Professor of Law at Loyola Law School. She teaches the Community Justice Clinic and the Law & Poverty course. In collaboration with community organizations, Professor Finger has worked extensively on disaster-related cases and policy matters to improve government accountability in rebuilding and on distribution of disaster funds. Prior to joining the clinical faculty at Loyola, she practiced law in Seattle focusing on consumer, land use, and human rights cases.